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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Roof Tree - Chapter 10
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The Roof Tree - Chapter 10 Post by :Trey_Brister Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :May 2012 Read :3193

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The Roof Tree - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

Through the rest of that night Old Jase lay on a pallet spread before the fire, rising at intervals out of a deathlike slumber to slip his single suspender strap over his bent shoulder, turn up the lantern, and inspect his patient's condition.

On none of these occasions did he find the girl, who spent that night in a straight-backed chair at the bedside, asleep. Always she was sitting there with eyes wide and brimming with suffering and fear, and a wakeful, troubled heart into which love had flashed like a meteor and which it threatened, now, to sear like a lightning bolt. It seemed to her that life had gone aimlessly, uneventfully on until without warning or preparation it had burst into a glory of discovery and in the same breath into a chaos of destruction.

"Kain't ye give me no encouragement yit, Uncle Jase?" she whispered once when he came to the bedside, with a convulsive catching at her throat, though her eyes were dry and hot, and the old man, too ruggedly honest to soften the edge of fact with evasion, shook his head.

"I hain't got no power ter say yit--afore I sees how he wakes up termorrer," he admitted. "Why don't ye lay down, leetle gal? I'll summons ye ef airy need arises."

But the girl shook her head and later the old man, stirring on his pallet, heard her praying in an almost argumentative tone of supplication:

"Ye sees, Almighty God, hit don't call for no master _big miracle ter save him ... an' Ye've done fotched ther dead back ter life afore now."

That night Dorothy Harper grew up. For the first time she recognized the call of her adult womanhood which centred about one man and made its own universe. She would not be a child again.

* * * * *

The town of Lake Erie was no town at all, but a scant cluster of shack-like buildings at the crossing of two roads, which were hardly roads at all, either.

The place had been called Lake Erie when the veterans who had gone to the "War of Twelve" came home from service with Perry--for in no war that the nation has waged has this hermit people failed of response and representation.

This morning it stood as an unsightly detail against a background of impressive beauty. Back of it rose wooded steeps, running the whole lovely gamut of greenery and blossoming colour to a sun-filled sky which was flawless.

The store of Jake Crabbott was open and already possessed of its quorum for the discussion of the day's news.

And to-day there _was news! A dozen hickory-shirted and slouch-hatted men lounged against the wall or on empty boxes and broken chairs about its porch and door.

The talk was all of the stranger who had come so recently from Virginia and who had found such a hostile welcome awaiting him. Spice was added to the debate by a realization in the mind of every man who joined in it that the mysterious firer of those shots might be--and probably was--a member of the present conclave.

Jake Crabbott who ran the store maintained, in all neighbourhood differences, the studious attitude of an incorruptible neutral. Old Grandsire Templey, his father-in-law, sat always in the same low chair on the porch in summer and back of the stove in winter, with his palsied hands crossed on his staff-head and his toothless gums mumbling in inconsequential talk.

Old Grandsire was querulous and hazy in his mind but his memory went back almost a century, and it clarified when near events were discarded and he spoke of remoter times.

Now he sat mumbling away into his long beard, and in the door stood his son-in-law, a sturdy man, himself well past middle-age, with a face that was an index of hardihood, shrewdness, and the gift for knowing when and how to hold his tongue.

On the steps of the porch, smiling like a good-humoured leviathan and listening to the talk, sat "Peanuts" Causey, but he was not to be allowed to sit long silent, because of all those gathered there he alone had met and talked with the stranger.

"I fared past his dwellin' house day before yistiddy," declared Causey in response to a question, "an' I 'lowed he war a right genial-spoken sort of body."

The chorus of fresh interrogations was interrupted by a man who had not spoken before. He rose from his seat and stepped across toward Peanuts, and he was not prepossessing of appearance as he came to his feet.

Joe Doane, whom the pitiless directness of a rude environment had rechristened "Hump" Doane, stood less than five feet to the crown of his battered hat, and the hat sat on an enormous head out of which looked the seamed and distorted face of a hunchback. But his shoulders were so broad and his arms so long and huge that the man had the seeming of gorilla hideousness and gorilla power.

The face, too, despite its soured scowl, held the alert of a keen mentality and was dominated by eyes whose sleeping fires men did not lightly seek to fan into blazes of wrath.

No man of either faction stood with a more uncompromising sincerity for law and peace--but Hump Doane viewed life through the eyes of one who has suffered the afflictions and mortification of a cripple in a land that accepts life in physical aspects. His wisdom was darkened with the tinge and colour of the cynic's thought. He trusted that man only who proved his faith by his works, and believed all evil until it was disproven. Like a nervous shepherd who tends wild sheep he feared always for his flock and distrusted every pelt that might disguise and mask a possible wolf of trouble.

"What did ye say this hyar stranger calls hisself, Peanuts?" he demanded, bluntly, and when the other had told him he repeated the name thoughtfully. Then he shot out another question with the sharp peremptoriness of a prosecuting attorney, and in the high, rasping voice of his affliction.

"What caused him ter leave Virginny?"

The stout giant grinned imperturbably.

"He didn't look like he'd relish ter be hectored none with sich-like questions es thet, an' I wasn't strivin' ter root inter his private business without he elected of his own free will ter give hit out ter each an' every."

Young Pete Doane, the cripple's son, who fancied his own wit, hitched his chair backward and tilted it against the wall.

"I reckon a man don't need no severe reason but jest plain common sense fer movin' outen Virginny inter Kaintuck."

Hump swept a disdainful glance at his offspring and that conversational volunteer ventured no further repartee.

"By ther same token," announced the elder Doane, crushingly, "thar's trash in Virginny thet don't edify Kaintuck folks none by movin' in amongst 'em."

Young Pete, whose entrance into the discussion had been so ruthlessly stepped upon by his own sire, sat now sulkily silent, and his face in that sombre repose was a study. Though his name was that of the ancestor who had "gone to the Indians" and introduced the red strain into the family there was no trace of that mingling in young Peter's physiognomy. Indeed the changes of time had transferred all the recognizable aspects of that early blood-line to the one branch represented by Bas Rowlett, possibly because the Doanes had, on the distaff side, introduced new blood with greater frequency.

Young Pete was blond, and unlike his father had the receding chin and the pale eyes of a weak and impressionable character. Bas Rowlett was a hero whom he worshipped, and his nature was such as made him an instrument for a stronger will to use at pleasure.

The sturdy father regarded him with a strange blending of savage affection and stern disdain, brow-beating him in public yet ready to flare into eruptive anger if any other recognized, as he did, the weaknesses of his only son.

The crowd paused, too, to receive and question a newcomer who swung himself down from a brown mare and strolled into the group.

Sim Squires was a fellow of medium height and just under middle-age, whose face was smooth shaven--or had been some two days back. He smiled chronically, just as chronically he swung his shoulders and body with a sort of swagger, but the smile was vapid, and the swagger an empty boast.

"I jest heered erbout this hyar ruction a leetle while back," he announced with inquisitive promptness, "an' I rid straightway over hyar ter find me out somethin'."

"Thar comes Bas Rowlett now," suggested the storekeeper, waving his hand toward the creek-bed road along which a mule and rider came at a placid fox-trot. "He's ther feller that fotched ther stranger in, an' shot back at ther la'rel. Belikes he kin give us ther true sum an' amount of ther matter."

As Sim Squires and Peanuts Causey glanced up at the approaching figure one might have said that into the eyes of each came a shadow of hostility. On Sim's face the chronic grin for once faded, and he moved carelessly to one side--yet under the carelessness one or two in that group discerned a motive more studied. Though no one knew cause or nature of the grievance, it was generally felt that bad blood existed between Bas and Sim, and Sim was not presumed to court a collision.

When Bas Rowlett had dismounted and come slowly to the porch, the loungers fell silent with the interest accorded one of the principal actors in last night's drama, then the hunchback demanded shortly:

"Bas, we're all frettin' ourselves ter know ther gist of this hyar trouble ... an' I reckon ye're ther fittin' man ter tell us."

The new arrival glanced about the group, nodding in greeting, until his eyes met those of Sim Squires--and to Sim he did not nod. Squires, for his part, had the outward guise of one looking through transparent space, but Peanuts and Bas exchanged greetings a shade short of cordial, and Peanuts did not rise, though he sat obstructing the steps and the other had to go around him.

"I reckon ye've done heered all I kin tell ye," said Bas, gravely. "I'd done been over ter ther furriner's house some siv'ral times bekase he war a neighbour of mine--an' he seemed a mighty enjoyable sort of body. He war visitin' at old man Harper's las' night an' I met up with him on ther highway. He'd done told me he'd got a threatenin' letter from somebody thet was skeered ter sign hit, so I proffered ter walk along home with him, an' as we come by ther rock-clift somebody shot two shoots.... I toted him back ter Harper's dwellin' house, an' he's layin' thar now an' nobody don't know yit whether he'll live or die. Thet's all I've got ther power ter tell ye."

"Hed this man Maggard ever been over hyar afore? Did he know ther Harpers when he come?"

Hump Doane still shot out his questions in an inquisitorial manner but Bas met its peremptory edginess with urbanity, though his face was haggard with a night of sleeplessness and fatigue.

"He lowed ter me that his folks hed lived over hyar once a long time back.... Thet's all I knows."

Hump Doane wheeled on the old man, whose life had stretched almost to the century span, and shouted:

"Gran'sire, did ye ever know any Maggards dwellin' over hyar? Thar hain't been none amongst us in my day ner time."

"Maggards ... Maggards?... let me study," quavered the frosty-headed veteran in his palsied falsetto. "I kin remember when ther boys went off ter ther war of Twelve ... I kin remember thet.... Thar war Doanes an' Rowletts an' Thorntons...."

"I hain't askin' ye erbout no Doanes ner Thorntons. I'm askin' ye war thar any Maggards?"

For a long time the human repository of ancient history pondered, fumbling through the past.

"Let's see--this hyar's ther y'ar one thousand and nine hundred.... Thar's some things I disremembers. Maggards ... Maggards?... I don't remember no Maggards.... No, siree! I don't remember none."

The cripple turned impatiently away, and Bas Rowlett speculatively inquired:

"Does ye reckon mebby he war a-fleein' from some enemy over in Virginny--an' thet ther feller followed atter him an' got him?"

"Seems like we'd hev heered of ther other stranger from some source or other," mused Hump. "Hit hain't none of my business nohow--onless--" the man's voice leaped and cracked with a belligerent violence--"onless hit's some of Old Burrell Thornton's feisty kin, done come back ter tek up his wickedness an' plaguery whar he left off at."

Bas Rowlett sat down on an empty box and his shoulders sagged wearily.

"Hit's Old Burrell's house he come ter," he admitted. "But yit he told me he'd done tuck hit fer a debt. I hain't knowed him long, but him an' me hed got ter be good friends an' ther feller thet shot him come nigh gettin' me, too. Es fer me I'd confidence ther feller ter be all right."

"Ef he dies," commented the deformed cynic, grimly, "I'll confidence him, too--an' ef he lives, I'll be plum willin' ter see him prove hisself up ter be honest. Twell one or t'other of them things comes ter pass, I hain't got nothin' more ter say."

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